“How do you handle sibling rivalry?” I have been asked this question a few times recently. This question is usually preceded by a story of how an older child resents a younger sibling. I remember someone sharing that her five-year-old son seems to hate his baby sister. That afternoon she received a call from him, “Mommy, yaya and I are on our way home. I want baby __________ to be asleep when I get home, okay?” Other stories would sometimes involve physical pain inflicted on the younger sibling.
These are not just stories of entitled kids of this generation. The bible itself is replete with stories on sibling rivalry. The story of Cain and Abel is about the jealousy of the former that led him to murder his own brother. When he was asked where his brother was, he answered with the now famous expression, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” We also have Jacob who tricked his brother Esau out of his inheritance. And we also have Joseph’s brothers who were so jealous of him that they sold him to slavery!
Sibling rivalry should not be taken lightly as this can be the seed of a bigger problem in the future.
When I’m asked if I experienced sibling rivalry problems among my three sons, I find it hard to recall any serious one. Then I remember that when I got pregnant with our second son Enrique, I read a lot of books on the subject – both for adults and kids. I recall reading a book to Martin about Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Big Brother Bear preparing for the coming of Baby Bear. I read this to him every night as my tummy grew by the day. The main lesson of the story is to involve the kuya and make the baby also his baby. He has to share in the “ownership” (for lack of better word) of the new family member, instead of seeing him as a threat to his current position in the family. True enough, his anticipation built up and when we finally brought home Baby Bear, Kuya Bear was the most excited. He knocked on all five doors of the apartment where we were staying as he yelled, “I have a baby brother! I have a baby brother! He’s home! Come see him!”
Another thing that we prepared for were the usual comments that could come from relatives and friends, which may hurt Martin. We posted a notice on the wall of my hospital room and our home where visitors could readily see, with the following reminders:
- Please greet Marty first before out new baby.
- Please do not compare Marty with the baby.
- Please do not tease Marty – that he’s no longer the baby of the family, that we don’t love him anymore, etc.
Your cooperation will be greatly appreciated and will help Marty adjust to the situation of having a new member in our famly. (See above photo for the actual notice posted.)
For the coming of our third baby, we went through the same preparation and it was easier this time because there was kuya to tell Enrique how it’s like to have a new baby. Plus I guess Enrique was excited to have “his own younger sibling.”
I’m not saying that the boys never had conflicts while growing up. They sure had. Tons of it. In fact, there was a time when they quarreled everyday. And that’s not an idiomatic expression. That’s actually every single day! They quarreled about all sorts of things, mostly trivial things that I sometimes suspected they actually enjoyed the exercise. But I don’t recall them quarreling because of jealousy.
They’re all competitive and they’d sometimes get pikon over a game in basketball, table tennis, board games, etc. but I’m happy that no one among them ever felt that we, their parents, played favoritism and unfair treatment, the cause of serious and destructive sibling rivalry.
I wish to share what I know about this subject based on my experience and those shared by others:
- Children are sensitive to the differences in parental treatment as early as age one.
- Sibling rivalry is more intense when children are close in age, of the same gender, and when one child is intellectually gifted.
- Children should view parents’ love as unconditional and similar to an eternal spring. The truth is most parents have this kind of love for their children. When another child comes, it’s not as if it’s a limited resource that a portion of which has to be taken away from child 1 in order to give something to child 2. The problem is in being able to communicate this to the kids.
- Medicine Analogy – Inasmuch as parental love is an eternal spring, the reality is our time is limited. When the boys were very young, they would take turns in getting sick and sleeping beside mama. I took this opportunity to use an analogy to explain to them that I don’t have to spend exactly the same amount of time with each of them every single day just to show them that I love them all the same. I would ask them, “Should I give you medicine for fever if you’re well?” And they would answer, “No, vitamins are okay. Just give it to the one who’s sick!”
- Awareness of their strengths and weaknesses – Openly admire their strengths, and carefully and privately criticize their weaknesses. This is not the same as giving labels to your children like “the smart one,” “the pretty one,” etc. Labels reduce children to a single characteristic while awareness of strengths and weaknesses makes them mindful that they are individuals with unique gifts. They should also be aware that people have different opinions, tastes and preferences. I remember always being asked, “Who’s the smartest, the most handsome, the most whatever among your sons?” Sometimes the boys would even hear those questions with matching answers from other people, but I guess they’ve been conditioned that they’re all lovable in their unique way so everything’s okay. However, because they know about their individual strengths and weaknesses, they also use those points to argue with me, “Ma, that’s not my style, that’s ___________’s style so I guess you should not expect that from me.”
- Are they secure? One of the things I’m thankful for is that my first-born is a secure kuya that he even encourages his younger siblings to do better than him by offering tips based on his own experiences.
- Watch out for the behavior of other people around your kids. Sometimes the people around your kids like your yayas or whoever is caring for your child are the ones involved in an unhealthy competition, which give rise to sibling rivalry.
It is the mindset that parents’ love is scarce that makes the children compete for it. And this is the root of jealousy and sibling rivalry among our children. So while our children are still with us, let’s make them feel the true nature of our love for them. It’s an eternal spring. Let’s spend quality and quantity time with them in their growing up years.
It has been a joyful journey for me raising my sons for over two decades now. And in the occasion of the second anniversary of the publication of the ebook version of Raising Pinoy Boys, I wish to give you a gift – Get the ebook for free from Apple iTunes, Flipreads, and at specially low prices from Amazon Kindle. Download to your ipad (or any tablet), computer, cellphone, and other devices. You may even give it as a gift to your family and friends. This offer is good from July 23 – 30, 2013 only.
Here are the links:
Flipreads – http://flipreads.com/raising-pinoy-boys
(*Prices may vary depending on the country you’re ordering from.)